T.J. Storm unleashes his martial arts skills in this independent action film that proves to be quite well despite some confusing dialogue and a standardized plot.
South African martial artist Sizwe “The Cobra” Biko (Storm) is asked by his father Sipho (Michael Chinyamurundi), who is serving time in prison, to find a cache of diamonds that belonged to the family. When Sizwe finds the diamonds, he is confronted by three racist thugs who still believe in apartheid. Sizwe fights them off with his martial arts skills and is helped by a fellow prison guard.
Sizwe decides to go to Los Angeles to sell the diamonds with the help of old friend Nicholas (Jeff Wolfe). Arriving in L.A., he joins up with old friend Mpho (Sebati Edward Malafe), who introduces him to his friends Gilroy (Floyd Gilmore) and Gerard (J.T. Jackson). As for the diamonds, Nicholas finds a buyer in Goro Tanaka (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a businessman who has lots of property and is successful. When the deal is apparently complete, Nicholas sets Sizwe up for a fall. When he is injured, Sizwe finds help from local girl Vicki (C. Traci Murase). With the help of his friends, Sizwe sets up a plan in motion to get either the diamonds or the money for the diamonds back to help his father, no matter the cost.
The plot seems like a combination of typical revenge film mixed in with internal struggle within an organization. Based on the novel “When the Cobra Strikes” by co-writer and co-star Sebati Edward Malafe, the film seems like a standard B-movie and it is obvious that this is an independent martial arts film with not only the quality, but makes good use of its cast. American martial artist and actor T.J. Storm has proven time and time again how underrated he is. Storm may be best known as the parkour gang leader Maginty in PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008), but has done his fair share of martial arts roles such as THE ULTIMATE GAME (1996) and even made his film debut in BREATHING FIRE (1990) opposite Jonathan Ke Quan and Eddie Saavedra. While Storm’s Sizwe may seem like he can’t make up his mind about taking either the money or get the diamonds back, that part falls in the script, written by Malafe and director Scott Donovan, who also plays the mysterious Frank, whom we can assume is a private investigator of sorts.
Once again, veteran villain actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa proves that he can make any role he is given work. Here, he plays Goro Tanaka, a businessman we can assume is also the head of perhaps a Yakuza organization, despite the word “Yakuza” not even mentioned once. While Goro is set up as the main villain, he has an issue of his own in the form of a power struggle between him and his son, Satoshi, played by Richard Dorton. As for the traitorous Nicholas, martial artist Jeff Wolfe mugs for most of the time, yet he does get a chance to showcase his skills in a fight against Storm halfway through the film. Serving as a producer on the film, Stephanie Cheeva gives a memorable cameo here as Shihan Kris, an old friend and mentor of Sizwe who dresses as a ninja and gets in some sparring time against Storm.
Serving as action director is Ken Ohara, who makes good use of the martial arts skills of cast members. While Storm uses some nice kicks, with the nickname “Cobra” as his character, he calls the style “Cobra Style Kung Fu”, which is reminiscent of Snake Fist style. As mentioned, Jeff Wolfe makes the most of his one fight sequence with his kicking skills. The climactic fight sequences pit Storm against a band of Tanaka henchmen including two sword-wielding females and even a band of masked henchmen before taking on a katana-wielding Goro. For the most part, the fights look decent, but at times, they did a bit of closing in at the wrong angles in certain areas. However, ultimately it doesn’t take away the fact that the martial artist cast members and stuntmen (including the likes of Tsuyoshi Abe, Yoshio Iizuki, and Jade Quon) worked hard to make the fit look good.
Despite some flaws in the execution of action and the dialogue, BLACK COBRA stands to be a decently made martial arts action film that makes good use of its cast, notably the underrated T.J. Storm and veteran Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Worth a rental.